“We started this four years ago because the college was over $2 million in the hole.”
GCC board member
Gila Community College (GCC) staff could soon get back one day of pay per month they gave up two years ago to offset budget cuts.
On the heels of that request came the welcome news that Gila County’s budget includes $275,000 to help the community college district pay for the upkeep of the buildings the county recently turned over to the college.
The GCC board voted at its June 14 meeting to ask Eastern Arizona College (EAC) to decrease furlough days from two a month to just one per month. The furloughs amounted to a 10 percent pay cut for most staff.
Since 2008, EAC has required GCC workers to take off extra, unpaid days each month to relieve budget shortfalls. At first, staff lost four days per month, which amounted to a 20 percent pay cut.
“We started this four years ago because the college was over $2 million in the hole,” said board member Tom Loeffler in an interview.
Currently, staff only has two enforced days off per month, but that could go down to one.
“We have a responsibility to advise EAC that we would like staff to return to work to increase their salary and retirement benefits,” said Loeffler.
Decreasing the mandated furlough days from two to one would cost the college $65,000 for the year.
That amount covers the salary and benefits of 22 staff, said Loeffler.
However, Senior Dean Steven Cullen argued against decreasing furlough days because of outstanding budget uncertainties. He worried that the fourth quarter payment to EAC, along with uncertainty over whether Gila County will contribute to maintenance costs for the land they turned over to the college will strain the budget.
The county subsequently unveiled a budget that included the subsidy. The district feared the county would cut it off after last year’s county action to turn over to the district about 22 acres, including the existing site and a big block of empty land it had held in trust for the district for years.
GCC Board President Larry Stephenson suggested a piecemeal approach to the problem. He proposed requesting the removal of one furlough day instead of both.
The board agreed with that suggestion.
“I’d feel comfortable eliminating one furlough day,” said board member Bob Ashford.
According to the GCC budget, the college will carry over $400,000 from the previous year into the new year.
Payments to EAC have come to around $100,000 per quarter, said Loeffler at the meeting.
In the past, Gila County paid $300,000 annually to cover building, parking lot and landscape maintenance costs on the land handed back to GCC earlier this year.
“We might need to tighten our belt, but we need to get people back to work,” said Ashford.
Gila Community College is one of two provisional community college districts in the state. As a result of its second-class status, the district gets little state support — which means it relies more heavily on tuition and property taxes than most other community college districts in the state — especially in rural areas.
The district must also contract with EAC for its credential and most of its administrative services.
GCC pays EAC a 25 percent surcharge on almost everything it spends and the Safford community college district then hires the staff and faculty and administers the budget.